Friedrich Nietzsche - How To Own Yourself (Existentialism)
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He is widely famous for his critique on morality and religion and also for his critique on conventional philosophical ideas. He is considered a precursor of existentialism, highlighting the importance of freedom and finding meaning in a meaningless world. He wrote several books, including “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, “Beyond Good and Evil”, “The Birth of Tragedy”, and “The Twilight of the Idols”. He has also considered himself as a psychologist, paving the way to the psychoanalysis of the 20th century. Nietzsche was also famous for his words “God is dead”. He had continuously attacked Christianity, his books being more and more incisive as he became more mature.
Such militant atheism was not seen with good eyes in the nineteenth century and, in 1883, he tried and failed to obtain a lecturing post at the University of Leipzig because of his attitude towards Christianity and the concept of God. Nietzsche is a great example of a man who stood by his views, who was not shy to express them in a straightforward manner, no matter the cost. In other words, he owned himself and, in his view, no price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. To help you understand the ways in which you can better own yourself, here are 5 lessons we can learn from the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche: Dare to stand alone Nietzsche says: “The concept of greatness entails being noble, wanting to be by oneself, being able to be different, standing alone and having to live independently.” In his book “Beyond Good and Evil”, Nietzsche ponders about what greatness means.
Greatness means to be a totality by yourself, being able to live independently, speaking your mind, being true to yourself, having the guts to be different from the rest. Oftentimes, the ones who achieve great things in life follow their own way, they are often working by themselves, without expecting any help from others and they have enough guts to push against the resistance of others, in other words, they have more “will”. According to Nietzsche, we all have this will, which he called, the will to power, the will to overcome yourself, to expand your potential. To reach greatness, we should never compare ourselves to anyone else, we are unique by nature and we should stop believing that our value is dictated by society.
Our value is the value we give to ourselves. When we are children or young adults, we highly depend on our parents and later in life we depend on the ones who pay us if we are employees or we depend on our clients if we are entrepreneurs or, in some cases, we depend on our spouses. Because we can hardly be totally independent, our behaviour and thoughts are shaped by the ones we depend on. In spite of living in a free society, such a society is built in a way that it makes us all connected, dependent on each other. If we are tied too much to other people, we might risk losing our individuality, our true authentic self.
We should thus avoid codependent relationships and seek more healthy interdependent relations, the type of relation in which our sense of self is respected and protected. When you truly own yourself, you are capable of making decisions on your own, to decide the best action you can take for yourself, without being influenced by others. You have to have the freedom to decide what career to follow, whom to marry, how to dress yourself, how to organize your life, and so on.
We might all agree with these teachings, but in practice it is much harder. However, there is no better time than this, in our modern ever connected and dependent world, to practice a bit of Nietzschean philosophy to achieve greatness, to own yourself. In order to do so you need to protect your sense of who you are inside any relationship, you need to make a habit to spend some time in solitude, to learn how to make decisions for yourself without letting others take them instead of you. For example, you should take the liberty to have at least 1or 2 hours per day for yourself, in which you should engage in a personal hobby, meditate, go for a long walk, considering your goals or similar. Don’t allow others to tell you what you have to do, what you should think, and most importantly, who you should be. 2.
Follow your wildest dreams Nietzsche tells us: “I know of no better life purpose than to perish in attempting the great and the impossible.” Nietzsche’s life was one of extremes. He suffered deeply both physically and mentally, eventually resulting in him suffering from subcortical dementia. His disease forced him to adopt an ultra-positive philosophy, one that is pro-living, pro-vitality, pro-strength and not one which denigrates life.
If he were a pessimist, his disease would have won faster over him. Embracing a positive attitude towards life gave him more power to fight the disease. He understood that the best way to live your life is by pushing it to the limits, the way to respect your life is not through doing your best to preserve it, making it comfortable, but by living it to the fullest, no matter the dangers. He was against the common idea of “happiness” or “progress”. In his view, described in “The Twilight of Idols”, he affirmed that the goal of life is not to seek pleasure. For Nietzsche, it is much better to target impossible dreams and fail than to target common dreams and succeed.
Nietzsche’s life is an example. Although in some way he failed, having left academia, living poorly until he succumbed to dementia, it was all worth it as he left behind philosophical books of great value. He followed his goal with courage and no fear. In the same way, following his example, we should think of our wildest dreams and how we can give our best in pursuing them, no matter the cost.
You might be stuck right now in a career that you do not like, for example, say you are an accountant but all you wanted in life was to perform on stage as a comedian. To follow your dream, you should ignore the cost of having a stable job, you might need to resign from your job or start building your career as a stand up comedian in your free time. Life is too short to not follow your wildest dreams and work on something you enjoy. Owning yourself involves owning your time, doing in life what really has meaning to you, and not giving your time for money, doing what everybody else does. Even if you do not reach what you really dream of, at least you will work in the right direction.
As the saying goes, “You have to shoot for the stars in order to reach the moon”. 3. Follow your goals, not a system In the words of Nietzsche: “Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen. Few in pursuit of the goal.” In many of his books, Nietzsche stressed upon the importance of expanding your horizons and reaching your highest potential, the highest ideal being the ideal of becoming an Ubermensch or superhuman. However, he noticed that most people are doing it wrong - they blindly follow systems instead of following their goals.
Systems are the opposite of goals, they are about creating a repeatable set of actions instead of focusing on a final outcome. Focusing on a goal gives you a better chance to succeed as it forces you to push more effort. What is important about setting goals is that, whenever you have a big goal as a target, you gradually become the person worthy of that target. It transforms you. It is not the end goal that counts, but the journey, the person you become in that journey. Or, in Nietzsche’s words, what is great in a man is that he is a bridge towards something greater, and not an end goal.
The person you become in that journey is what matters, not the achievement of the goal. Following a great goal helps us improve ourselves, to become better people, for which we need to go step by step, overcoming one obstacle at a time. When you set a goal, you set it based on your dreams and wishes, but you also set a deadline together with the goal and that puts some expectations on yourself.
On the contrary, when you follow a system, in your workplace for example, the expectations are not that great, it is just about following some daily habit, without forcing yourself to push your limits. Thus, systems are for people who avoid this stress of pursuing a goal and who prefer comfort instead of making their dreams come true. The most important thing is to have personal goals, meaning they should be your goals, not dictated by anyone else.
To achieve these goals, you might need to have a system as well, but not a system borrowed from somebody else, it should be your system, designed to help you to reach your personal goal, a system which you should change whenever necessary. You need clear targets and to develop a set of steps which can help you to achieve those targets. For example, make a list with all the things you want to achieve in the next 5 years, another list with things to achieve in the next year, then the next 3 months, then a month, then this week and then today. Then prioritize, think about what is most important. Imagine your primary goal is to own your dream villa with an ocean view.
First, decide the exact location and collect information regarding local property prices. Then, make a plan on how to pay for the villa, will you buy it cash or through a mortgage? How much money will you need for that and how much do you need to increase your income to get the villa? What steps do you need to take? Maybe you discover you need to change your job. You can then plan this month to apply for other jobs, in the next year to be promoted and so on. Organise your life according to your major goals, don’t structure your life-plans according to a system of someone else’s design, such as the company you work for, for example. 4. Embrace your demons Nietzsche warns us to: “Be careful, lest in casting out your demon you exorcise the best thing in you.”
Nietzsche was ill for a big part of his life; he suffered from migraines without aura since he was a child. Sometimes, his headaches were insufferable and he could barely work. In the second half of his life, he suffered from a psychiatric illness and depression. This psychiatric illness took power over him when he succumbed to it on the streets of Turin, in Italy, when he ran to a horse who was beaten by the owner and said “I understand you”.
He ended in profound dementia and the last 12 years of his life he spent being almost unconscious. He faced terrible demons all his life. But, spending so much time at the edge of the abyss looking down at his own demons, he could understand that they were part of him and the best strategy is not to fight them, but to accept them and to try to manage them. For Nietzsche, owning his demons meant owning himself, and this was his main priority.
Although he failed in the end, he could succeed in writing exceptional books, making him famous as he became one of the most important philosophers in the entire history of humankind. And, who knows, perhaps he owes his success to the way he managed his demons. Therefore, it is never okay to cast out your demons, they can be the best things that can happen to you. For Nietzsche, these demons were the Dionysiac part of ourselves which should be brought to the surface. In Nietzsche’s view, we have two sides: the dionysiac and apollonian sides. The Dionysiac side is what is hidden, sometimes even from ourselves, and it is related to the intuitive, subconscious, mystical aspects of our personality, comprising in general what we repress, what is not generally accepted by society.
Dionysos was the god of wine, of theater, of physical pleasures, of living life to the fullest, free of inhibitions, while Apollo was the god of Sun, of archery, music and dance, truth and prophecy, healing and diseases. The apollonian side is that side more related to that aspect of ourselves which we can reveal to others, which is positive, embodying the best part of ourselves which can be well received by others. If there is no problem in revealing our apollonian side, things are more difficult regarding the Dionysiac side. We have a lot of work to do to accept our Dionysiac side, our demons, and learn how to manage them. Casting out our demons means repressing our emotions and this can lead to a disintegration of the self because if we severely repress our emotions we not only deny ourselves, but we can severely damage the structure of our own psychological identity. In some ways, we give more value to the society around us, than to our own selves.
Of course, repressing some of the very negative emotions helps us adapt to society. For example, when we feel so angry at somebody that we want to physically hit them, but we immediately repress that instinct because we know this is not accepted by the moral norms of our society. No matter how hard this would be on you, it is more morally acceptable if you reply in a calm manner, defend yourself politely or ignore that person. But there are situations when you should not repress your emotions because it can lead to severe self-denial.
For example, imagine you feel a lot of jealousy for a friend who is much more successful than you. Despite what many of us were taught growing up, it is completely fine to feel jealous and you should not cast that emotion out. Embrace it. You can use such jealousy to work more on yourself, it can make you learn new skills to advance in your career or give you the impetus you need to start working on your plans towards that dream villa.
Therefore, jealousy can be one of the greatest things which can happen to you. It is just a matter of how you manage it. Instead of using your jealousy as destructive means, like talking badly about your friends' success in front of others, use your jealousy to make improvements to yourself. Do not cast out your demons, learn to manage them, use them in constructive ways. And in doing so, you can have a better ownership over your destructive instincts and ultimately over yourself. 5.
Give style to your character In our final quote from Nietzsche for this video, he says: “Giving style” to one’s character - a great and rare art!” Nietzsche was not only a bright philosopher, but also an artist. He was a pianist, composed beautiful songs and even used to write poetry. He was an extremely sensitive man, with great artistic skills. Even his pen writing style was special. The book he wrote which he considered the most important book he had ever written was “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, although very controversial, it is a work of philosophical fiction and a work of art.
Nietzsche considered it a tragedy, a parody, a polemic and the culmination of the German language at the same time. He was extremely proud of having written it. Indeed, Nietzsche was a master of the German language, giving it a special style, making an art out of it. And this kind of excellence in his writing style he wished to see transposed in people’s characters. That is why he admired great leaders and writers of the past, who could embody with style great ideals, like Caesar, Napoleon or Goethe. For example, in Goethe, he saw someone who could be a totality.
Even his main work, Faust, reflects the totality of human experience. Goethe could take the most important elements of the human experience and create beautiful works of art out of them. This was specifically the goal of Nietzsche with his book “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, a book “for all and none”.
What we can learn from Nietzsche regarding his views over art, is that art is not only to entertain us, to please our emotions, it can be something applied to our character too. We can make art out of our character, by playing with our qualities and defects, like a conductor directs an orchestra. We can make our qualities sing harder and the defects lower and, even more, if we know exactly when to introduce a defect, to make it in such a way that it sounds pleasant rather than annoying. To reach such mastery, you need to properly know your qualities and defects, to know for which you need a higher dose and which you should keep in shadow and reveal only in certain circumstances. Revealing yourself is an art that you should perform with great style and there is an art to turn your character flaws into strengths.
Every character flaw has a “silver lining”, which is a sign of hope or a positive aspect in an otherwise negative situation. For example, imagine that people always consider you to be too pessimistic, you’re always bringing people down. When in a meeting at work, a colleague proposes an unconventional way to reduce the manufacturing costs of a product by using a new technology. Your first tendency would be to say that the company does not have experience in using that technology and the timeline of the project is too tight, so you turn down that colleague immediately. Instead of such a reaction, think of new ways to bring up your concerns - give style to your character.
Say something like “this is a brilliant idea. How would you propose to proceed? Should we hire new people who have experience in this technology? Or is there a possibility to delay the project?” Always use affirmative questions to smooth your pessimistic tendency, but don’t give up the way you think, which is to spot the possible risks. Owning yourself implies knowing your qualities and defects, mastering them and thus giving your character great style. As we mentioned at the beginning, this video is brought to you by Endel. With so many distractions of the modern world around, a lot of us are having a hard time focusing on our work, our studies or even doing our daily tasks. Some of us are even having trouble sleeping or in finding mental clarity in order to be creative.
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